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Transcript for Episode 9.41

Writing Excuses 9.41: Fan Writing, with Christopher J. Garcia


Key points: Fan writing is writing that you do because you love writing. Creators need to make their own decision as to where their writing falls. Fanzines came out of sports fandom, baseball, boxers, and wrestlers. What kind of writing? Sercon (serious-constructive), talking about fandom, talking about science fiction, fannish fanfiction about fandom, and fanfiction itself, of course. Also poetry! To do fan fiction? Start writing! Answer three questions: Do I have something to say? What do I want to say? How do I want to say it? “Fan writing is basically geeking on paper.”

[Mary] Season nine, episode 41.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, fan writing.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you’re in a hurry.
[Dan] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Dan] I’m Dan.
[Howard] I’m Howard. Oh, whoops.
[Dan] Wait, which is which, I can’t tell anymore.
[Mary] I’m so [dismayed?]
[Brandon] We have special guest scar… Star, Chris Garcia.
[Chris] Hi, everybody.
[Brandon] Chris is a Hugo award-winning…
[Chris] I will never get tired of hearing that.
[Brandon] And also Hugo nominated for his acceptance speech, which is one of the most meta-things in the history of the Hugos.

[Brandon] We’re going to talk about fan writing. What is fan writing? I think a lot of people get confused when they look at the Hugos and there’s a separate category for fan writer versus the fiction writing and things like this.
[Chris] Well, it’s interesting. Fan writing is… it’s most broad definition is very simple. It’s any writing that don’t pay your rent.
[Chris] I have not paid rent to prove that. It really comes down to this. Fan writing has… There are lots of very fine definitions people try to give it. Fan writing is writing about fandom. Writing about a particular type of thing, like people who write about Wheel of Time or this and that… That’s considered fan writing. But really, fan writing is just writing that you do because you love writing. Like all the writing everyone on this panel is going to do for the Drink Tank Issue 400 at the end of the year…
[Chris] Right there, I have an oral contract. Beautifully done, Chris.
[Howard] Isaac, stop the tape.
[Dan] Great, delete it.
[Chris] But, yeah, fan writing is really… It’s been… Fan writing is as old as writing. It’s arguable that fan writing was first and professional writing was second. I’ll stick to that, because it gives me a sense of purpose.
[Mary] So, does…
[Brandon] Well, I would assume that somebody wrote something long before somebody got paid for writing something. So, yes, that’s got to be the case.
[Howard] I wrote thing. You stop writing thing, go hunt.
[Howard] I’m pretty sure that was the publisher’s conversation with the author.
[Mary] So does fan writing…
[Dan] I’d love to see the royalty conversation.
[Mary] Get 15%
[Howard] What is hoof? Me want meat.
[Dan] Me want hoof and ankle.
[Mary] You said 15%. You didn’t say which.
[Dan] You eat antlers this winter.
[Mary] [inaudible]
[Mary] Sorry.

[Dan] Chris, would you like to say something?
[Howard] You’re absolutely right. I think fan writing came first. One of the places where I get confused is when somebody like John Scalzi or Jim Hines who… I mean, they both won best fan writer Hugo awards, but they are professional authors. Where is that line… How does that…
[Chris] Well, that’s actually an interesting question. As a guy who lost to both of those dudes, it was a vast injustice.
[Chris] But what it comes down to is that they both do a significant amount of writing that is not paid for, for their blogs. Occasionally they’ll send things out to other folks. I’ve had both Jim and John write for me, for example. That… And I’ve had many people on this panel. Mary, I remember, is one… One of the numbers. Will actually… That will actually qualify as fan writing. It does become sort of tricky when you look at the argument that if you’re… If Neil Gaiman writes for a fanzine, is he eligible to be a fan writer? The argument is, well, of course he is, but he probably shouldn’t be. It sort of comes down to the idea that the actual creator should judge where they’re best placed.
[Brandon] We run into this with our podcast, in a similar thing. Where does Writing Excuses, the podcast, belong, because there is a fancast category and we are not in it.
[Howard] Now that we have the anthology out, we should qualify for best novel.
[Howard] Because it’s all one big volume. I’m just screwing with it.
[Mary] But… But… I ran into that with Lady Astronaut of Mars last year, where it was… It was moved out of the category I thought it should be in. Because I thought it was a novelette, but they thought it was a dramatic presentation because it was an audio. But the point being, with the category that the person winds up in… For me, some of it is that the Hugos are by and for the fans. Professional writers, professional editors… There are other categories that we can win. The fan writer category, for me, is one that… There is… That’s for people who are not eligible in other categories. That’s part of it, for me, is that I feel like it… Even though I… I feel it would be inappropriate for me. Like I won’t enter a masquerade.
[Chris] Oh, really?
[Mary] No. Because there are other awards I can win. For a lot of the people who are going into a masquerade, that is the award they can win, and it feels inappropriate for me.
[Howard] Phil Foglio won Hugo awards two years running, I think, for best fan artist back in 78, 79 or 79 and 80. He got nominated a 3rd year, and at that point, he had started submitting covers for the Robert Asprin series. He told the committee, “No. I don’t want to be in this category anymore. I want to do this for a living.”
[Mary] Now, saying that I think it’s inappropriate… Inappropriate for me. This is again… The creators…
[Howard] I’m saying Phil felt the same way.
[Mary] Creators should make their own call on whether or not…
[Chris] Their own determination.
[Mary] Like I think that Jim absolutely feels… And was appropriately in the fan writer category. But I think it varies from person to person. Which is what makes it so sticky.

[Brandon] Let’s spend a little bit less time on categories. Let’s talk about actually doing the writing and making a fanzine and kind of the… Let’s talk about just putting together a fanzine. And the history of fanzines. This is really interesting to me. What is a fanzine, where did they come from, and how do you put one together?
[Chris] Well, it’s real easy. Fanzines came from… Actually, and this is sort of the weirdest thing, is that I’ve done a lot of research into… Fanzines came out of the sports fandom tradition.
[Chorus: Really?]
[Chris] There were fanzines in the late 1800s for the various booster groups doing like… The New York Giants, all those sort of baseball teams and, oddly enough, boxers and wrestlers. I got really lucky that I got to find a… There was a classic wrestler named William Muldoon who eventually became the head of the New York Athletic Commission. He had a huge fan club, several thousand people around the world. This was in the 1890s. So, there was a fanzine that was called Muldoon’s Strongmen. It had all of this wonderful stuff. It was incredible. Out of that came other fanzines in other areas. We started seeing the first sort of fanzines actually came out of Lovecraft fandom. They were doing fanzine-like things. Then the real sort of kickoff of science fiction fandom… zines was a thing called Comet from one of the major fan groups in the early 30s. From there, once you had cheap mimeograph and cheap reproducing… Bam! Thousands of fanzines around the world. At one point, there were 1800 different titles being published in the US alone.
[Brandon] So let’s distinguish…
[Howard] Historically, you’ve just told us that jocks built the thing nerds love.
[Chris] Yes. It is rather shocking. It is… This is the weird thing. I really want to write a book someday about the crossover between wrestling fandom and science fiction.
[Brandon] That would be beautiful.
[Chris] I had a wonderful panel once with me and Dick [Lepouve?] We were talking about 1980s wrassling. It was awesome. He never wrote that article for me.
[Brandon] So, let me distinguish here. From my understanding, these are including both nonfiction and fiction pieces.
[Chris] Usually, yeah. They tend towards nonfiction, particularly nowadays because there’s so many outlets for fiction. There was sort of a… There’s sort of a distinction between a thing called sercon, which is serious constructive, talking about fandom, talking about science fiction, and sort of they call it fannish, which is more things like fanfiction which was… Fiction about fandom, not fanfiction taking other characters. But that also sort of folded into each other. So nowadays, you sort of see a lot of blending of those two. There’s also a lot of… Something that gets really overlooked, there was a lot of poetry being published. Oddly enough, the dude whose name I will never remember for the life of me, but it’s a writer, actually published a lot of poetry in this fanzine called Granfalloon.

[Brandon] All right. We are actually going to stop for our book of the week. We’re going to let Mary tell us our book of the week.
[Mary] That’s right. The book of the week I’m going to recommend… I’ve talked about this series before. The latest is, and the final in the series, is Dreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini Taylor. This is a wonderful series that is both urban fantasy and epic fantasy. It’s about a parallel world to Earth where there are angels and demons. It’s wonderful, it’s dealing with political issues, it’s dealing with prejudice and wars and gorgeously written. The narration by Khristine Hvam is so good. This book makes me weep. I normally take a break every two hours when I’m doing a long drive. I was driving and realized I’d been in the car for five hours and that I needed to get gas and couldn’t feel my legs.
[Mary] So it’s a really good book. I highly recommend it.
[Howard] Start a 30-day free trial membership.

[Brandon] All right, Chris. One of our listeners, let’s say, wants to start writing, doing fan writing. What do you suggest that they do?
[Chris] I suggest they write. This is literally… This seems to be the easiest thing in the world, is just to put words on paper, for me. It’s like something I do when I’m not even thinking. I occasionally wake up and will have a novel in my hand that I will have come up with through the night. I might not have used actual words, but it’s there. It’s… If you can just write. It doesn’t matter what… It doesn’t matter how you write, you’re the one who determines what gets out there. If you just put words to paper, and you decide to put them out there, you’ve got a fanzine.
[Dan] So beyond the writing itself, what are the kinds of questions that a wannabe fan writer should ask themselves? About what direction do I want to take this… I don’t know what those questions would be.
[Chris] The three questions I think… And I apply this to all sorts of things throughout my life… Is do you have something to say? What is it that you want to say? And how do you want to say it? If you are a fan writer who really wants to get their ideas about art out, do you want to do that through words or you want to do that through art? Do you want to… Are you someone who has a real love of graphic design? Do you want to have it be all written very standard, justified margins, do you want to have a very strange little cutouts? It’s find your vision. It really… It applies on all sorts of things. It’s figure out what you want to do, if you have something that is really meaningful to do it for… I mean, I, of course, skipped that step. I have never done anything meaningful in my life. But this one thing, I will do and do consciously. I will say, “You know why I want to do it? Because it’s fun.” I honestly… One thing I think a lot of folks miss is, this is fun. It’s something that I love to do. And I drag people in, like Vanessa, I’ll just drag in with me on these little projects. I hope that my infectious love of this thing will infect them, and Bradley Voytek will study it.
[Howard] My daughter and I… My daughter is an artist… Met Chris at Convolution last year. I remember being… I… Okay, so Dad really wants his daughter to have a great art career, and I was nervous about approaching Chris about maybe… Because I know her work is great, but maybe, would he consider… I talked to Chris about it, and he looked at her. It’s like, “Oh, I love having art. I love this. Send me all your stuff.” I bring this up because… Okay, maybe you disagree… But I bring this up because if you are a writer or you are an artist and you are looking for an outlet, other than your own blog, maybe email Chris?
[Chris] Yeah!
[Howard] Because he does this magazine and that’s an outlet where your fan writing, your fan art, can appear.
[Chris] Absolutely. It’s one thing… Having foolish friends is very useful. I luckily have a number of foolish friends who are willing to send me stuff. That art, by the way… That cover for handicapping the Hugos last year, spectacularly wonderful. One of my favorite covers I’ve ever got to run. I’d love to have a cover from Howard someday. But… Again, oral contract!

[Chris] That’s recycled. I mean, there’s all sorts of wonderful things that you get and you sort of build community. That’s what happens in all these things. How do blog communities happen? Well, people start commenting on your things, you start commenting on their’s, back and forth. People start writing for you, you start writing for other people. Bang. Something grows. I’ve… I have about seven different zines that I do. Each one of them comes with a different community. I have a steam punk zine that happens… I published a couple of steam punk things, people started to send me steam punk articles. I have a zine that is about fandom, that we do different themes, and it’s because me and my buddy, James, said, “You know, it would be great if we could actually have some themes.” These things just keep happening and happening and I keep getting dragged up in them.
[Brandon] This is the beautiful thing about science fiction and fantasy fandom. This is the core and the soul of it, that science fiction and fantasy came about really through the fandom roots. Most of the writers, particularly if you look back at the gold and silver ages of science fiction, these are people who were fans first. Everyone’s like, “We love this stuff. No one’s doing this stuff for us. Let’s do it ourselves.” That’s where a lot of the magazines, a lot of the writers came from. There’s this grand tradition of fandom creating its own community. Long before the Internet was around that made it all so easy. It’s why this community is so tightknit, and it helps people. I’m… I have a career today because I went to conventions. The people who organize conventions and were doing fan writing, a bunch of fans published my first fiction story. I was a teen and the people who ran the local fanzine also ran a contest at the convention. They picked mine as the winner. It was the first time, it was stapled together, and they handed it to me and said, “There you are. You’re in a magazine, and you are published.” This is where we come from. I think we owe a great deal in our community to the fan writers, the fan organizers, and the people who create fanzines.
[Mary] Absolutely.
[Howard] And the jocks.
[Laughter] [And the jocks!]
[Brandon] So, we are out of time. I’m sorry. I do have to call it here, and ask for… Okay. One thing. Go ahead.
[Mary] I just want to… Is it safe to say that fan writing is basically geeking on paper?
[Chris] It’s geeking on paper. That’s exactly what it is. Yeah. And we do it a lot.

[Brandon] Let’s do our writing prompt, Dan.
[Dan] Okay. Our writing prompt is, you are going to pick your favorite book or movie or play, whatever, and you’re going to write something about it, but… Here’s the rules. You’re not allowed to do a review, you’re not allowed to do a synopsis, and you’re not allowed to do fanfiction. It has to be something else.
[Brandon] All right. This has been Writing Excuses. You’re out of excuses. Now go write.